Chicago Film Festival: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

FSR hasn’t really had much of an opportunity to cover the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) this year. Why? Because I’m broke. It would’ve been a good opportunity to get the word out on some movies that should be making a splash this year, namely Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom opened the festival last Thursday, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Kaufman’s Synedoche, New York, the new Edward Norton/Colin Farrell cop drama Pride and Glory, the holocaust film The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and Viggo Mortensen in Good which closes out the festival next Wednesday. As part of the media accreditation I get passes to a bunch of non-gala films (mostly foreign films whose directors won’t be in attendance), but as a writer for FSR I took it upon myself to tackle the subject I know you care about most: porn.

And I don’t mean Four Nights with Anna — or Gomorrah, if you swing that way — but I’m talking of course about Kevin Smith’s new pseudo-erotic opus Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

The film opens with Seth Rogen burning his testicles and closes with — spoiler alert — someone getting a Cleveland Steamer to the face. It’s safe to say that Kevin Smith still has not grown up, but if you want the usual dick and poop jokes, extended analogies, and Star Wars humor, you’ll get along with this film swimmingly. The basic set-up is that Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are roommates. At their ten-year high school reunion they run into Bobby Long (Brandon Routh) who Miri wants to have sex with only to find out that he’s in a relationship with a gay porn star (Justin Long). When things go bad for Zack and Miri financially after that, they turn to the dark side of porn. What unfolds is half Chasing Amy, half Mallrats.

Tonally, it’s a pretty screwed up movie. There’s enough character work and emotional investment in the characters that we can take this comedy seriously, but also a lot of sight gags, double entendres, and bad line delivery to make me think it’s not much of a step-up from any marginally funny, low-brow comedy you see everyday. ALSO, WHO DOES THE MUSIC TO KEVIN SMITH’S MOVIES? It’s fucking atrocious. I went on IMDb and saw that the man’s name is James L. Venable and he’s done all of Smith’s music scores since the “Clerks” TV series. What else did he score? Well there’s Scary Movie 4, Superhero Movie, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, and An American Carol. This guy has really cornered the market on shitty comedy.

But, Zack and Miri is not a shitty comedy. Far from it. It just has a shitty director. The best thing Smith did here is open up the casting parameters to include someone other than his buddies. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks generate some real, genuine chemistry on-screen. Bringing in real porn stars Traci Lords and Katie Morgan for authenticity and Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson to even out the porn stars:Smith’s friends ratio, and you have a merry band of porn amateurs worth watching.

The real joy here is Craig Robinson as Zack’s co-worker and friend Delaney. Every line drips with that kind of sardonic flavor and sad undertone that I’m convinced only Craig Robinson can deliver. Not only does his character get the best lines in the film, he makes the lines that aren’t remotely funny work. It’s nice to see a guy who’s been relegated to small supporting roles in “The Office” and some Judd Apatow productions a chance to shine. I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of Craig Robinson (and not in the way that this movie would suggest).

Overall, it’s a solid movie. The love story is painfully obvious, but it works. There are actually a few moments that are, dare I say, capably directed as well. The moment that Zack and Miri have to pop each other’s porno cherries is actually quite nice. It’s not very sexy, the camera lingers on Banks and Rogen’s faces just long enough to tell you that these two are breaking the carnal rule of porn: no emotion. Plus she makes him ‘finish the deed’ inside her. I think that’s rule #2.


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